Blog | Aug 19, 2011 | 3 Comments

[it’s the messenger, not the message]

A long time ago in a very intense work environment, I had a discussion with colleagues about whether it’s more important to be respected or liked. I chose “liked,” which most of the others felt was the wrong answer. I accepted that judgment for years, but I’m rethinking it now.

Sometimes it’s the “how,” not the “what.”

Is it possible that people pay more attention to who is telling them a message and how they deliver it than they do to the actual content of the message?  Over and over again, I’ve seen people fail—despite the strength of their intellects, skills, and ideas—because for some reason they were not liked.

I have a colleague who feels this is particularly true in nonprofits, where “likeability” seems to be a key factor for success. This can be problematic because the requirements for fitting in and being liked are different everywhere. And it’s enormously frustrating for people who are made to feel like outsiders even when they do an excellent job.

I’ve also noticed this phenomenon in volunteer groups. People who are well-liked can get the same projects done that completely stymied others who were not as popular. They can bring forth the same suggestions that were previously blocked but have more success in motivating their peers.

Of course, we all know people who succeed without being liked. They consolidate power to get things done, and others submit to the sheer force of their wills. They are the archetypal leaders and successful entrepreneurs. However, I think they are becoming the exception, not the rule.

And from my own experience, I will say that trying the “first like me, then you’ll learn to respect me” method can have a high personal cost.  It’s easier to get taken advantage of by others and to become burned out.

What are your thoughts about likeability vs. respect?

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Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.


Dear Claire, hope your internet troubles are clearing. Please accept a slow reply on this.

Spot on! BUT, I wonder???? intuition (all those hidden bells that go off from time to time) might pick up on subliminal messages that those who are not liked miss in themselves. Arrogance, too intense intensity, poor listening skills, etc. as compared to jovial or really warm people? I know there are personality types that exude passion for something, a topic or a cause. That passion could act as a steam roller. just musing. How does this strike you? off the mark or not? I am curious? thanks and best, peggy, Doc Peg or hey you LOL


Margaret (Peggy) Herrman


Hey Claire — two weeks later and EVENTUALLY leaving a comment. How you diddling? You asked “Is it possible that people pay more attention to who is telling them a message and how they deliver it than they do to the actual content of the message?”

I want to believe no, however I have to say yes.

Having worked in, and delivered training for frontline services in the charity and non-profit sector, (in my experience) it was extremely important for staff to be liked first, rather than respected. I have NO idea if it was the nature of the role — but like you witnessed people who are ‘liked’ turn a project around where the people who weren’t failed. Or they were just ignored!

Is it a human need to be liked first? Are people who are respected not liked? I’ve never respected anyone I didn’t have some liking for.

My head says (for me) repect, my heart ‘liked’.

See, this is why it takes me FOREVER to leave comments — I start asking my own questions!



Claire Wagner Reply:

Dawn, it’s wonderful to know that some of my content has a longer shelf life than one day! Thanks for your thoughts. I feel exactly as you do, that this shouldn’t be true, but it seems to be. Many people have painful or awkward experiences that will bear this out.


Dawn Barclay


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